Gen Ed Review Committee Readies Interim Report

A committee tasked with reviewing the Program in General Education will issue an interim report on the program for faculty comment next week.

“It’s a very short draft,” said Gen Ed review committee chair Sean D. Kelly, who is also chair of the Philosophy department. “It contains an account of the information that we’ve gathered from the various constituencies that we’ve been talking with,” including undergraduates, teaching fellows, faculty members, and administrators.

General Education Updates
Sean D. Kelly, chair of the General Education review committee, discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the current undergraduate Gen Ed program on Thursday afternoon in Emerson Hall.

The current program—both the courses offered and the way those classes are taught—leaves undergraduates, professors, and administrators dissatisfied, according to Kelly.

“I don’t think anybody thinks that the program is in fabulous shape, but the question is...what’s the diagnosis,” said Edward J. Hall, the Committee on Gen Ed’s faculty chair and a Philosophy professor.

Last fall, the Gen Ed review committee convened town hall meetings to solicit feedback on the program from College students, graduate students, and faculty members. Attendees raised concerns about topics ranging from Gen Ed course difficulty levels to challenges in teaching students with different academic experience levels.

The interim report is a precursor for a final document that the review committee will release later this spring. The committee will release the interim report, which will detail ideas for the program, internally to faculty members, according to Kelly. He declined to name specific proposals included in the report, citing a desire to hear feedback from faculty first.

From the beginning of their review of the program, committee members looked at Gen Ed’s eight course categories, Kelly said, and they are considering how those categories align with what administrators outline as Gen Ed’s philosophical mission.

The Gen Ed philosophy, as it was intended when the program was conceived, centers around giving undergraduates the tools “to think seriously about their education, about the way in which their education prepares them for, among other things, civic life in a sort of global society,” Kelly said. “It’s not obvious that the categories clearly manifest the philosophical goals of the program.”

In addition to evaluating the categories, committee members may consider changing the number of Gen Ed requirements that students must fulfill.

“Eight is an awful lot, I think,” Kelly said. “I am not opposed to the thought that maybe there will be fewer required General Education courses.”

The feedback the committee heard from students and faculty members highlighted a variety of other issues related to the current Gen Ed program, according to Kelly. When selecting Gen Ed courses, undergraduates tend to choose courses with lower difficulty ratings and pay more attention to the overall Q score, Kelly said. “These metrics aren’t so prominent when students are choosing other courses,” he said.

From the standpoint of professors and teaching fellows, Gen Ed courses often do not fit into specialized faculty members’ areas of expertise. Instructors also have to teach the material to students with different levels of experience in the subject, according to Kelly.

“[Instructors] have everything from first-year freshmen, who have no background in any area related to the Gen Ed course, to second-semester seniors, who have a lot of detailed background in things sometimes covered by the course,” Hall said.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.



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